“Where do all these things start? Once upon a time. And you just . . . go from there.”
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Chapter 26
The beautiful cover of The Hazel Wood caught my attention, but the story by author Melissa Albert is what kept me captive.
The book falls into the young adult category with its 17-year old main character Alice. She’s lived a unique life with her mother Ella, never staying in one place for too long—the shadows of misfortune haunting each step and often the reason they must pick up and move on. Ella’s mother is Althea Proserpine, an author who’s only book is an out-of-print collection of odd fairy tales. Alice has never met her grandmother and her mother won’t let her read the book with its stories about the Hinterland.
Alice’s journey is dark and at times terrifying. She’ll lose her mother, her only friend, and even her life. Author Melissa Albert creates dark twists and turns throughout the world as we think we know it and the one just beyond, where the stories pulse with their own life.
I found The Hazel Wood to be immersive, imaginative, and a book I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys the darker side to fairy tales. There is plenty of intrigue and mystery, and while the pace isn’t breakneck, the story kept me turning pages long after my eyes begged for sleep.
“Where were you when the dead were following me home?”
Alex Stern. “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo (Chapter 6)
Her name is Galaxy Stern but she goes by Alex. A California native, Alex dropped out of school and left her hippie mom’s home to run with her sketchy drug dealer boyfriend. By the age of twenty, Alex has seen it all. Then things go from bad to worse—she becomes the only survivor of a brutal murder. And the killer is still out there. But she receives a special visit during her hospital stay, a benefactor that offers to take her away from L.A. It’s a chance for a new beginning, far from her old life. Of course there’s a catch.
Alex arrives in New Have to begin a new life at Yale. She’s been enrolled as a freshman, but her benefactors have also given her a job. Alex now is part of a mysterious secret society. Yale is home to eight of these active and highly-secret societies who regularly perform rituals of magic to satisfy their wants and needs. Her job is to work with the others of Lethe House to “police” the societies and make sure protocols are followed and campus and New Haven stay safe.
When a town girl is murdered, Alex finds herself on the hunt for the killer. She fights ghosts, powerful magic, and more as she tries to unravel this mystery of this murder as well as one that happened decades earlier. Everything in New Haven is connected. She also has to face the truth about her own past and special abilities.
I enjoyed reading Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. It is atmospheric and a suspenseful thriller with enough mystery that kept me turning pages. Alex may be flawed, but Bardugo had me rooting for her. Alex’s evolution throughout the story was nicely rounded and believable. There really was a lot to Ninth House and it’s well worth picking up. For me, it was a different look at ghosts and how they may interact with the living. I especially like the Bridegroom; as I don’t do spoilers, just take my word, he has his merits.
Ninth House had plenty of twists and turns, a couple that surprised me and that was fun. While the ending was satisfying, I do like that it’s obvious that this is the start of a series and I look forward to reading the next book.
“Maybe fate and superstition were just our brains’ way of making sense of the world around us, creating a story to explain events.”
The Daybreak Bondby Megan Frazer Blakemore (Chapt. 5, page 34)
The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore is the sequel to The Firefly Code, a middle-grade science fiction story set in the future. I love a sequel, especially when the first book captivated me with its story and characters.
Everyone is back in book two, Mori and her closest friends from Firefly Lane in Old Harmonie, the community run by KritaCorp. By the end of book one, we know new girl Ilana is a form of AI and the scientists from KritaCorp have decided to disassemble her. The kids decide to intervene and run away from Old Harmonie with Ilana on a mission to save her life. The Daybreak Bond opens with the Firefly Five outside Old Harmonie and on their own trying to make their way to Cambridge and the campus of MIT. At MIT, they hope to find Dr. Varden, the one scientist that may be able to help keep Ilana alive.
I like stories where the characters/heroes are on a journey and must overcome obstacles, and The Daybreak Code delivers on that. Blakemore gives the reader five kids who leave their “utopian” community to brave the wilds of the countryside and rough cities where they know no one. On the 24-mile journey the face everything from dangerous dogs to electric fences and kids who know how to survive outside a KritaCorp community. Things get rough and not everyone comes through unharmed. However, the Firefly Five meet new friends and learn to trust others outside their group, while choosing to follow their hearts.
The Daybreak Code is a solid sequel to The Firefly Code, effortlessly combining lite sci-fi with dystopian elements and the universal truths of childhood friendships. I definitely recommend both books for middle grade readers and teens. As an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories and as a parent it’s nice to have books that you can enjoy with your kids.
“That’s another reason why I like it out there: things were left to nature to figure it out, and nature tends to be smarter than people.”
The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Chapter 3)
There’s something about strolling the stacks at the library and finding a book by an author you haven’t read, and then discovering that book is a complete gem. That’s what happened to me the other day when I found The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore. The book is middle grade fiction set in the near-ish future where the community of Old Harmonie is a type of utopia. However, things are never quite as they seem.
Mori’s grandmother was a scientist and founder of Old Harmonie. Because of her vision and others like her, Mori and her friends enjoy a peaceful and safe life on Firefly Lane. When new girl Ilana joins their group, things begin to change. She’s just a little too perfect and Mori wonders if Ilana is a natural or designed.
Parents in Old Harmonie can dampen and enhance their children’s genetic traits. When the kids turn 13, they also get their “latency” which is an awakening or “turning on” of a trait that will help serve them as they grow into adults. For some it may be more physical, a type of athleticism, while for others it’s something more cerebral like puzzle-solving. Mori’s not sure what her latency will be, but she knows she loves the outdoors and plants. It turns out Ilana shares those interests as well, but the new girl acts strangely at times and that worries Mori and the others.
The Firefly Code explores the growth of friendship, as well as the coming-of-age in a society where it’s increasingly difficult to determine what’s real. Is the world outside Old Harmonie actually dangerous? What really happened to Mori the one and only time she was sick? Who is Ilana and why did she come to Firefly Lane? When her secret finally is revealed, the Firefly 5 has to decide what defines true friendship and humanity.
I enjoyed this book immensely and highly recommend it to middle grade and teen readers as well as adults. The characters are likable as well as easy to relate to, and the primary themes will speak to any reader.
The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore is a Bank Street Books Best Book of the Year (2017 Edition). Its sequel is The Daybreak Code. You can find more about the author and her books at her website: meganfrazer.com.
“Helen wondered how many couples had walked this very aisle today, this week, this month. Were they all insane to be marrying with a war going on, knowing they’d be starting their lives together, apart?”
With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall, pg. 158
Readers who enjoy historical fiction mixed with romance won’t be disappointed when they pick up With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall.
I’ll admit, this is not the usual type of book I pick up (and you totally can tell that if you follow my book reviews or have scrolled through the pages on my site.) However, I’m so glad my neighbor recommended it and I listened to her and read it.
With Love, Wherever You Are is a book of fiction based on two real people: Helen Eberhart Daley and Frank Daley, M.D. Not only did Helen and Frank really exist, they are author’s, Dandi Daley Mackall’s, parents. Mackall has woven a beautiful, at times heart-wrenching, narrative that tells the fictionalized story of an army nurse and an army doctor who meet during World War II. It’s a tale of a whirlwind romance and wedding, followed by separation due to war and duty.
I read this book over the course of two days because I became so enthralled with Helen’s and Frank’s story. From their first meeting to the final days of the war, their story kept me turning pages. Without spoilers I will tell you that the place they met definitely was not a place where a young woman and man would normally meet in 1944. Author Dandi Daley Mackall takes readers on a journey, that is at its heart a love story set amid the horrors of the Second World War.
While Helen and Frank meet before D-Day, they don’t have much time to get married before they’re both sent overseas. They write many letters to each other throughout their deployment, more than 600 total according to the author notes, often writing two or three times a day. Before they are shipped out, the crafty couple devises a system, a code of sorts so they can tell each other where they are stationed. This had to be done because if they just wrote that out in a letter, the Army censors would have blackened those words out. Many of these letters are included throughout the book so you have a real sense of their emotions, personalities, and how the war affected these newlyweds.
When you pick up a copy of With Love, Wherever You Are be sure to read the author’s notes at the back, it’s a treasure trove and so much fun after spending 460 pages with Helen and Frank. She does tell the reader which characters were added for fiction, and other notes. I enjoyed that section as much as the story itself.
“The truth was so much more X-Files than Lucy could have imagined.” (pg. 177)
Readers looking for a young adult, sci-fi thriller with mystery and even a bit of romance can find it all and more in The Tesla Legacy by K. K. Pérez. The story follows Lucy Phelps, an intelligent 18 year old in the last few weeks of her senior year of high school and the “shocking” information she uncovers about herself, her family, and the legendary Nikola Tesla.
Lucy has epilepsy, or so she’s been told her entire life. Because of that, she’s been sheltered by her parents shunned other kids, especially when she was younger. A budding and brilliant scientist, Lucy just wants to venture out on her own terms and that means getting away to college. She does have the love and support of her best friend Claudia, but things are a bit rocky with her boyfriend Cole. When Lucy accidentally discovers a hidden message in a photograph of her younger self, it leads her into New York City and an experience that will change her life.
After discovering the hidden Tesla room in New York, Lucy has her hands full. She’s promised Claudia she’d help with the lighting design for prom, there’s issues with her boyfriend, she needs to keep working on her science experiment, and there’s also this little (not!) issue of her newfound abilities that involve her ability to manipulate and control electricity. And let’s not forget the handsome new teaching assistant that’s taken an interest in her as well as the two rival, ancient, alchemical societies that each want Lucy for their own agendas.
I enjoyed The Tesla Legacy immensely. It kept me entertained and engaged, even during its science-y moments. For me, there was a nice balance between sci-fi and action as well as between the sci-fi and romantic elements. Lucy is a likable character and I found myself cheering her on as she takes a stand.
Author K. K. Pérez provides enough twists to keep a reader guessing, but not too many where it becomes tedious. I do like that we’re set up for a sequel and when it’s released, I’ll definitely be adding it to my TBR list.
“It was the dawn of new era, one where most of the human race now spent all of their free time inside a videogame.”
(Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Chapter 0005, page 60)
Fun and entertaining—Ready Player One by Ernest Cline delivers more than just a nostalgic look at the games and pop culture from my childhood. The story is as immersive as the fictional OASIS, a mix of dystopia and sci-fi with plenty of action and references to satisfy my inner geek.
I did not read the book before I saw the movie and I’m glad I saw the movie first. Full disclosure, I really enjoyed the Ready Player One movie directed by Steven Spielberg and I’ve watched it multiple times. It’s the movie that prompted me to check out the book and want to read it; and I’m really glad I read Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.
My advice: Don’t go into reading the book expecting to find the movie jammed between the pages. While they share the same title, characters, and overall theme, the Ready Player One book and movie really are two separate entities, both with their own merits.
Now, if you read the book first, I can see why maybe you didn’t care for the movie. Or maybe you did. Whatever. It’s my review and I liked them both, but have no issue keeping them as two different stories.
Let’s get back to the book. I liked it and plan to re-read it because there’s a lot to take in. It’s very detailed (okay, at times rambling) but I enjoyed the references and it didn’t take long for me to become invested in the journey of Wade Watts.
Wade Owen Watts (yes, his initials are W.O.W. and how fun is that when they’re entered into the high scorers screen of an old-school video game) spends his free time in the OASIS: the Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. It’s 2044 and the world is a mess due to many factors including the Global Energy Crisis. The OASIS is a virtual utopia where humans can escape their depressing reality. Its creator has died but left behind a challenge; a game for gamers. If they can find the Easter egg Halliday hid in the OASIS, they inherit his vast fortune.
Halliday left three keys that had to be found followed by challenges to be won/solved before moving to the next key. Wade is on the hunt, one of the “gunters” going for egg, and his OASIS avatar is known as Parzival or “Z”.
Along with his best friend Aech (pronounced like the letter “H”) and other gunters known as Art3mis, Shoto, and Daito, they vie to reach each key and claim the ultimate prize. Throw in the corporate baddies and their leader Sorrento and the race is on.
The book is told in first person from Wade/Parzival’s perspective. It’s extremely detailed, almost too much at times, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the overall story and rooting for Wade to get to that egg and not let Sorrento win.
Do I recommend Ready Player One by Ernest Cline? Yes, I do for fans of light sci-fi that’s filled (brimming!) with 80s pop culture and gamer references.
“When you know as much as we do, how can you ever decide to just . . . stop? Stop fighting? Stop trying to help? Once you’re in, you can’t turn your back on it.”
(Slayer, by Kiersten White, Chapter 17, page 224)
I really liked Slayer by Kiersten White and I say that as a huge fan of both the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie from 1992 and the long-running series—and I did watch all of Angel. I haven’t read the comics or graphic novels, so if you haven’t either, no worries. You won’t be lost, just maybe a bit surprised at few things that have gone down since Buffy, the slayers, and the Scoobies closed the Hellmouth in Sunnydale.
Slayer offers a different look at the Buffyverse, centered on what’s left of the Watchers and what happens when the last slayer becomes activated. Set primarily at and near the Watcher’s Academy, not far from Dublin, twins Artemis and Athena have grown up there. Their mother is on the now very small Watcher’s Council (remember the majority of Watchers were blown up?) and their father was a Watcher too.
Before he died. Protecting his slayer. Buffy.
Artemis and Athena, nicknamed Nina, are the only children of Buffy’s first Watcher, Merrick.
As children of Watchers, the twins’ lives have definitely not been normal, nor has their education. Artemis has trained in weapons and combat, while Nina has been more protected and has a natural hand (and preference) for healing. They’ve dealt with tragedy throughout their young lives, from the death of their father to the devastating fire that almost killed Nina because their mother chose to save Artemis first.
Their world shifts again after Buffy destroys the Seed of Wonder and magic is purged from the world and all portals and hellmouths are closed. However, moments before it’s destroyed, something happens to Nina. She’s now the last slayer, and she never even knew she was a potential. It comes as a bit of shock, once she finally notices. It takes her a bit.
Slayer combines all the elements I have come to know and love from the Buffyverse and then adds a few twists that, for me, worked. There was ample teen angst, relationship issues, and jealousies flouncing about as well as parental units and Watchers that relentlessly get in the way.
I loved the supporting characters, in particular Cillian and Rhys as well as demon Doug. I never fully warmed up to Artemis, but that’s okay. I don’t think she’s completely likable. Then again, Nina definitely has her moments when you want to slap her upside the head as well—but let’s be truthful, there were times we wanted to slap Buffy too.
Kiersten White plays homage to the original Buffyverse nicely. I particularly enjoyed the dream connections and the interaction Nina gets with both Faith and Buffy. Slayer has plenty of action, the right amount of snark and wit, and plenty of heart. Loved the reveal of the “hunter” at the end and look forward to seeing how this all plays out in future stories.
If you’re a fan of any Buffy the Vampire Slayer stories, then definitely check out Slayer by Kiersten White. Also White is the author of one of my favorite (and often re-read) YA series: The Paranormalcy Series. I highly recommend it, you’ll totally love Evie and she always reminded me a bit of Buffy.
“Gabe didn’t always agree with the method the girls employed in their assistance, but he couldn’t argue with the results.
They always acted out of kindness, love and charity—
but they always acted.”
(Chapter 9, page 178, The Book of Answers by A.L. Tait)
The Book of Answers by A.L. Tait is the second book of the Ateban Cipher duology and an action-packed adventure filled with intrigue, suspense, friendship, and fun. Author A.L. Tait takes readers on a journey they won’t soon forget.
Gabe, Gwyn, Merry, Scarlett, and Midge are on the run again. Along with Eddie, the son of the king, the group journeys to a remote place named Haydon’s Mont where they hope to uncover the secret behind the mysterious book Gabe must protect at all costs. Hunted by their enemies, they face terrible dangers and must use all their cunning and bravery to get Eddie the documents he needs to regain his crown and survive long enough to rescue Merry and Scarlett’s dad from execution. Gabe discovers the truth about his own birthright and pushes himself to new levels of valor to help save his friends, their families, and the king while protecting the precious Book.
I really enjoyed The Book of Answers from start to finish, and then wished there was more. It’s a great escape from our modern world and I love being swept into a story that takes me on a journey. From our band of heroes trek to Haydon’s Mont to the outlying villages and the great courtyard at Rothwell Castle, author A.L. Tait delivers exciting action sequences, witty dialogue, and characters to like, love, and even detest—because you can’t have an adventure story without a few bad guys giving chase.
If you’re a regular reader of my book reviews, you know I don’t do spoilers. I will tell you that the secret behind the Book is pretty cool and how the book can be read, is even better.
Pick up the Ateban Cipher duology today. I highly recommend The Book of Answers and loved how the two books effortlessly merged into one grand adventure.
Please visit author A.L. Tait at her website for links to The Book of Secrets and The Book of Answers as well as her not-to-be-missed books: The Mapmaker Chronicles.
“Your head can be turned, your heart can be wooed, but your gut never lies.”
(Merry, chapter 4, page 61 of The Book of Secrets by A.L. Tait)
The Book of Secrets by A.L. Tait is book one in a duology titled the Ateban Cipher. Fourteen year old Gabe, an orphan living in the Oldham Abbey, finds himself the protector of a a special book. It’s thrust upon him by the dying Brother Benedict, who tells him to “take it to Aidan.” Gabe’s perilous journey begins, book in hand, as he flees the only home he’s ever known. With the help of a group of rebel girls, Gabe takes on a quest to find the mysterious “Aidan” and assist the girls in rescuing a wrongfully imprisoned family member.
This book is so much fun! As a kid, I loved books like The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and the swashbuckling stories of the Three Musketeers. The Book of Secrets has a similar feel, in my opinion. It’s packed with action, adventure, danger, and an intriguing mystery.
I loved the wit and whimsy of the dialogue and the pacing of each scene. As for characters, Gabe is very likable and you’re cheering him on from the start. The girls are amazing and I loved each of them—smart, brave, loyal, and caring. And they save Gabe more than once. You want Merry, Gwyn, Scarlett, and Midge on your side.
There’s a lot happening in The Book of Secrets, but the story flows effortlessly with a comfortable balance of action, exposition, and dialogue. While not set in modern day, author Tait makes it easy to envision the times through her vivid descriptions and dialogue. I’d recommend The Book of Secrets for mid-grade readers through teens, but adults will enjoy this adventure as well.